Skip to main content

tv   Mosaic World News  LINKTV  October 10, 2012 7:30pm-8:00pm PDT

7:30 pm
dancing, drumming - things that are common in the ritual context; they are empowered, through the power of symbols, to be something that's incredibly meaningful. and, if we want to go all the way back to the very beginning of the course, what do they do? they answer profound life questions - they guide sense of identity, the guide relationship, they give meaning, they give purpose in that context, as they're replicated throughout usually the cycle during the year. i go back to rabbi bronstein, and talking about how the great myths and the torah - exodus and liberation and the giving of the law of sinai - drive the whole liturgical or ritual cycle throughout the jewish year in terms of festivals. and also meet the needs of rites of passage experiences, like marriage or coming to adulthood in the bat and bar mitzvah - so there it is. another thing they do, besides transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary, is rituals imply doing -
7:31 pm
they imply activity on the part of the believers. and for me, that's why i guess, of all the dimensions, if i had to pick one that just seems to be most interesting, and how odd this is the one where we don't have a roll-in - i guess we've seen plenty of rituals - but that's what's so fun about seeing people do things. whether it's praying or singing or chanting or drumming or dancing, humans are doing it - you can't see religious experience; that's why it's the hardest dimension for me as a teacher to teach. myths, you can read, but they don't capture like seeing someone doing something. yeah, janet? >> i was invited by the kidney foundation to do a little yoga workshop demonstration, and after i was all finished with this hour-long presentation, do you know what they said they liked the best? the chanting. an hour of yoga? they don't care. but they said, "wow, we really liked that chanting you did!" so then it was kind of that ritual thing was very attractive -
7:32 pm
just sort of innately attractive to them. >> it is, because it's the doing and the movement, and that's come up in this class before too. meditation is fine, and talking about meditation, it is a kind of ritual, but a singing, a dancing, a chanting seems to - quicker, if you're not uninitiated, take you out of your ordinary sense of self and into an extraordinary thing. we've tried this in a couple instances in this class, which is a totally controlled environment here, but yet people have said, in a few guests we've had, a few activities we've had, people have begun to feel an actual tangible change in their sense of self. and if that can happen in this setting, imagine what happens in one where people are believers and are trained and are attached to this ritual. so it's a huge power. well, just a couple more things. i don't want to forget this thought i have about some of the more negative
7:33 pm
aspects of ritual, but sacramental - another key feature of rituals. and sacramental is not, in this case, the capital of california; we're talking about the sacrament - that's a great one - juan told me that on the break. we're talking about another key point here. it's taking the ordinary and transforming it into the extraordinary. i mean, that's - sacrament, sacrifice; ascending, descending. i love those balances between the two, because in the sacrament, the divine descends as the human sacrifices some sense of their limited sense of self, and ascends. and somewhere in that wonderful mixture between divine and human, there's transformation, and so the sacramental element is really in there. this, though, you can find - i always get nervous when i start comparing deeply held spiritual things to rather mundane things - but you can still see this. you can go out and toss around
7:34 pm
a football in the big stadium, big football stadium here at governor state, and eh, nothing's going to happen. but you take that simple act of throwing around the football and playing the game, and you put it in the context of the super bowl, and you have amazing extraordinary powers. remind me when we get to civil religion to speak about one of the super bowl halftimes, because it's such a great example, and i would have loved to use this videotape, but we would have had to pay thousands of dollars in copyright fees, so i'll just have to describe it. but that's the idea of the sacramental. performative - our last feature, obviously - it's things that people do. and as janet said, i think that's one of the reasons it's such a primary function in terms of symbols, because people can get involved with it, they look forward to it, and really, they can count on it, they can count on it. and that brings us to our last feature here, it's repetitive.
7:35 pm
and as rabbi bronstein said, and we've heard in so many other instances, rituals are repetitive in two ways. now one, i use this term liturgical - i hope you're okay - that word is just usually the cycle of events, as people go through a year, you will count on those - the holidays, the rituals, the ceremonies, and we look forward to them; they bring meaning. talking about our - back to our wrestling - our tag team wrestling, the world wrestling, the lack of myth. well, we all know how we look so forward to a great holiday in this culture, particularly a religious holiday, perhaps, but it's lost its mythic meaning, and so it becomes more of a struggle, it's more materialistic, or something along those lines, and we'll talk about that in civil religion. but we do want to see how important, as it's repeated, it brings meaning and order to life - one of those key functions of myth. now, the second way can,
7:36 pm
of course, be repeated, as it's a once in a lifetime event - sometimes more than once; marriage, bar mitzvah, or coming into adulthood - but it's repeated within the community. so it may happen only once, but it's repeated, and oftentimes, and at a certain point. yeah. >> rituals bother me. i always feel that the downside approaches some element of impracticality, unreality. here's an example. i went to an islamic service, and as i walked in the door, the first thing i found is that all the men had to sit on one side and all the women had to sit on the other side - it makes no sense to me. another example: i'm photographing a wedding and the minister informs me immediately that the ceremony must not be photographed; we must restage it after the - it makes no sense to me.
7:37 pm
a third example: where was i? in church, at a wedding rehearsal, this was told to me that this lady was not a member of the church. and in this church, women don't wear pants. i know several churches where women are not permitted to dress ever in pants. the lady said that she was there for the wedding rehearsal, whereupon an usher came up to her and informed her that she would have to leave because women don't wear pants in this - i worry about rituals going - to me, it gets to be foolish, or impractical, or just somehow, to my own perspective, unreal. >> well, let me tell you where we're going to head with that, because it's a very important point, and after we do the ritual dimension, we move into the doctrinal dimension. now one of the key functions of doctrine is to bring order to myth and ritual,
7:38 pm
because when you're talking about myth and ritual, you're talking about some expansive, imaginative, symbolic areas. so doctrine, it's like you're a photographer, it's like focusing in the camera to get a clearest possible image. now that's good, and that's also negative, as you were seeing, because so often, i see ritual practice, which is - should be living; i mean, it should be magical, the ritual - but it becomes encrusted by doctrine over time, it becomes weighted down, it restricts, it outlaws, it cuts out the possibility. i mean, what you're saying is it's not allowing people to go to that extraordinary experience because it gets too much. and what i've found with ritual is it depends, as so many things in religion, is who's doing the ritualizing, because you're going to find people that use it as power. and that brings me back - well, we have one last feature here, which is the social dimension, and this impacts on the social dimension. and the negative example
7:39 pm
i wanted to bring up about ritual is someone who knows how to use symbols, and knows how to manipulate people with ritual, has enormous power over human beings. and back to an example i've used before in class, i did a paper on nazism, and you go back and look at those old films of the nuremberg rallies that hitler and his cronies put together - man, you've got the drums, you've got the singing, coming on, the exhortation, the torch light, and what you find here is a kind of extraordinary experience created - it's definitely extraordinary, but it says so much about identity and relationship, whereas the good believing predominantly christians in that stadium are familiar with the idea of transcendence because they are used to a christian teaching on that -
7:40 pm
all of a sudden, what has transcended is not god or christ, it's the german mythos - the thousand-year reign. and people will say, well, how could these - there's a handful of nazis, but who followed them, and how did this happen? and could it happen here? well, if you can manipulate people with symbolism and rituals, then you get that kind of negative thing that i think we're all very aware of. so we don't want to just wash over everything and say everything's beautiful and wonderful in religion. we're talking about some huge power when we're talking about ritual and symbolism, and that's a kind of world-view analysis skill. we're going to talk more about cults, particularly as we get to the social dimension, and what is the power that draws in believers into a group - which is actually a sect, but the same general thing - of the branch davidians? what brings in that kind of intensity? koresh, was very adept at manipulating symbolism in a way that he could use to -
7:41 pm
i don't particularly like the word control - but create a totalistic mental world-view environment for the people in that compound. yeah, janet? >> and so i think we can go back to the foundations of human behavior, where it would be beneficial for you to be innovative at certain times, and to kind of come up with a new way out of a situation, but also i think there's just hardwired into us somehow behaviors that are repeatable. it happened to me when i was in botany class, where you have to collect, kill, and smash flat a hundred plants - well, i'm telling you, when i got done with class, every flower i saw, i thought, "wow, smashed flat! dead! it really looked good!" i was sort of infected with this primal gathering behavior, and i really felt it very strongly. i had to deprogram myself from that very survival mechanism of gathering - the gathering of food,
7:42 pm
the gathering of - i had to deprogram myself. so i think that the ritual stems from a survival mechanism of human behavior, of repeated behaviors are often survival mechanisms. >> and let me plug that into another analogy, or just an insight into religion and education - may have used it, may not, but here, we'll use it again. education and religion - educational institutions are at the same time institutions of stability and control. at the same time, educational institutions are foundations for innovation, for transcendence - knowledge is an extraordinary power. and that's why we have these colleges and universities, so that people like me and my administrative buddies upstairs can control this very dangerous process. religion is exactly the same way - it's an enormous power. and so we ritually, we have this instinct, as you're bringing out, janet, is there's an instinct to want to use it to control and to have
7:43 pm
stability at the same time, just as knowledge is always going to create a transcendence it has to if it's real - the creation and extending of knowledge, which we ideally do at a university, is powerful stuff. well, the same thing in religion. let me jump onto these notes and then we'll get to you, barbara, because i want to do my civil religion notes, and then i'll feel like i've made my money and i've contributed to the stability and control of education. but civil religion is one of my fun themes. i love this, and this is one of those that we can get out there in the world and see everywhere. i mean, it is so there. i think robert bellah, the famous sociologist from berkeley, may have coined the term in an article he wrote back in 1967, and scholars have been arguing over it ever since. so i don't care what you want to call it - if you don't like civil religion, call it something else - but what i see it as is the power of myth and ritual, and how it has all the functions
7:44 pm
of myth and ritual, fleshes out the dimensional triangle, but in any given culture in society. and so it's fun to look at this in terms of the united states, because as i've said several times, if you want to understand civil religion, just get a tent, and park yourself in the paper plate and the napkin section of k-mart or wal-mart, and as the year goes by, watch the colors change. you've got your valentine's day with the reds and whites, and then we've got st. patty's day, and then i don't know how bunnies and easter eggs and - well, i kind of do - but you've got your yellow and your purple for easter and then we move through memorial day. and fourth of july, memorial day, these are classic civil religious holidays, and if you'll go back and think about our functions of myth - answer profound life questions about meaning, reverence for the past, hope for the future, guide behavior, worshiping of heroes and heroines -
7:45 pm
all the functions of myth that we see in a religious context are there in a culture to do exactly the same thing: to bind people together as a group, just as it does in religion, where we see it out in the culture, and it's fun to see how that works. it's very - it's difficult because the leaders, the political leaders themselves understand this, but not well enough. part of the reason clinton has gotten himself in such a stew is that he's a paradigmatic figure, like it or not, as a president of the united states, and more is expected than perhaps what allegedly has occurred. and so it can be difficult. how's that for being political? but let's look at some of these elements here of civil religion, and then we can just take questions on how it might function along with myths and symbols. symbols - the flag, stars and stripes. well, the main thing here is, it's a form of myth - and again,
7:46 pm
not a phony story - but it's a form of myth that validates the social order; it makes it important, it makes it ideal. so that's the first element in here. then there's some interesting places, the sect characteristic. one of the most important things it does - our second explanation for it - is to provide social cohesion through a liturgical cycle of holidays and celebrations, and that's what we're talking about, the k-mart, wal-mart thing, that i'm thinking about rabbi bronstein because we most recently went through his class and he was talking about the great myths in the sacred texts, describing different kind of ritual patterns in judaism. well, the same thing exists in a country like the united states, that we see these - what ideally these celebrations that we go through do is provide social cohesion - it brings us together, it makes us - identity, a sense of unity. at least, we may be very diverse
7:47 pm
in the country, but we can come together around this event and agree on something. notice - thinking back, for those of you who are old enough to have lived through the so-called vietnam era, what you saw there is absolute atomic bomb disruption of the american mythos. civil religion was so damaged that people were struggling to try to find meaning in any kind of ritual - very, very difficult to be an american in 1970. you were either on one side or the other - you were bound into one civil religious thing or into another. yeah, janet? >> my friend, robert, went to war. he enlisted in the marines, and to this day, the u.s. flag has no special meaning for him, because its whole mythological symbolism was found, for his life, to be untrue. >> see, now there is a response the flag.
7:48 pm
i'm glad you brought the flag up, because this whole question about, "do i burn the flag? do i honor the flag?" during that time, people sewed the flag on their butts, people honored it, and it's a powerful, powerful symbol that unifies what we mean as america, but during that time, it did not, and that's what we're talking about. the power of symbolism in its political context is radically real. other elements, just in terms of what we see in terms - it infuses public policy with social ideas with mythic significance. now here, let me sort that one out for you, because i hearken back to my fifth grade social studies textbook. they're a little bit more savvy now, they're a little bit multicultural, so you don't find it, but back when i was in fifth grade, that's what we mean about infusing the political process. george washington
7:49 pm
chops down the cherry tree, doesn't lie; abe lincoln walks a million miles to give back a penny - these kinds of things. we happen to be in the state of illinois - if you have been down to the springfield region, you know exactly what i'm talking about when we're speaking of civil religion, with the figure of lincoln. he's larger than life, he's more than just a human being or a past president - he's something that infuses public policy with an ideal. and we have to be very clear about that. civil religion supports the ideals over reality, and when we talk about the sacred texts that guide civil religious ideals in a country like america, we think about the declaration of independence - "that all people have inalienable rights." well, some folks have not gotten inalienable rights here, and we've had classes
7:50 pm
on native american spirituality, and we don't need to rehearse the whole negative scene with african american, native american, immigrants, people who didn't measure up to some kind of ideal, literally white-washed image of what the american mythos was. but we've been working on it now for 20 years to try to straighten that out, you don't want to be disingenuous, but realize that civil religion, like religion, is usually about raising up the ideal over the actual physical reality. sure. >> it seems to me, and maybe i'm wrong, but everything else that we've discussed discusses unity and inclusion. this starts to discuss exclusion. >> yes. and that's why i like to bring it up. in some senses, it turns the myth-ritual dimensional triangle on its head, because then again, it's not about religion. but it sure shows
7:51 pm
the power of symbols. and that's why i've always said, this idea of the united states - i mean, the united states is a miracle. i mean, and people tend to take it for granted, but the only kind of glue that is holding together that unitedness is this sort of glue made of myth, ritual, and symbol, that must lend itself to some sort of ideal that's agreed upon, and especially as we become more diverse, is inclusive, or we're going to lose it. i mean, one of the real challenges - you want to talk about apocalyptic, millennial challenges, the question comes down to inclusiveness, and how we inject inclusiveness into the civil religious context that most folks can agree on, because if we don't, we're going to see these schismatic tendencies. we'll talk about more about what has driven someone like a timothy mcveigh or a unabomber
7:52 pm
to turn on the united states in such an incredibly violent fashion - and there's many, many folks out there that see it that way. and what that is, is a failure for peoples to feel included in the new inclusiveness. well, it's almost gone full circle. helen? >> yeah, this whole idea of a civil religion is very interesting, and i'm very convinced and persuaded by what you say, that our life is permeated by myth and ritual. but where is this leading us? is there nothing left that's truly secular? is everything sacred? >> a very, very, very important question that somebody should bring up at least periodically in this class. we want to differentiate here between the world of religion, as we understand religion, and we're talking about major world traditions and we're touching on those
7:53 pm
in class - that is a special, extraordinary expression of these dimensions that we're seeing. what i see - and correct me, because this is my life, i'm living and learning as we go through this, and i'm always trying to make sense of this - what i see is that the fundamental elements, impulses, instincts in religion, to my thinking, naturally find their way into other processes. now we want to - i would not want to ever say that everything we have is in some senses empowered with religious ideals. the secular world is a reality, and though it has its own mythology, such as science, and education in certain forms, it still is demonstratively different. at the same time you think about heroes in the secular world - something like civil religion where we see myths and ritual and symbol creeping in - and i simply chalk it up to the fact that something as important, as fundamental
7:54 pm
as religion would share some of the same functions with other kinds of human cultural activity. i mean, that's about as best as i can figure it, but it's out there. yeah, chris? >> to me, the real question in civil religion is like you said, the triangle turns, but it's still - we're still talking about identity and relationship. and instead of an inclusive identity and relationship, i see this more as a, "i am this because i'm not you. i am this because you're not me." "i'm're not... we're not alike. but i'm me and you're you and i'm in this and you're in that," instead of, "we're all in this, and we're all..." the relationship has changed, and our identity, in terms of how it is focused towards other relationships, is more of a negative thing - it's more like,
7:55 pm
"my identity is this because i am not that." >> you're absolutely right, and that's a very scary form of identity formation is you over and against the other. let me tell you how that works, and i've gotten into this in looking at, again, some of the more extreme forms of so-called millennial violence, why people are doing that. could it be that the united states must have an enemy? now where that comes from is a basic mythological teaching that's biblically based that says that we - if we represent the forces of good, if we are zion, if we are god's kingdom on earth, then there's got to be somebody who ain't in the picture. and darn it, ronald reagan was the high priest of civil religion, because he pinpointed those commies - that's the evil force. and so we live with that tension. we're having real trouble without an enemy here. i don't want that to be the case, but so often it is the case. and your beautiful comment about iran has stepped in
7:56 pm
many times as the enemy, or iraq - to see players on a field of sport exchanging symbols of peace warms my heart, because that's what goes on. at the same time, i'm not naïve about where we draw our mythic elements from, and they come from the vastly predominant christian symbol system that works its way into other forms of mythic behavior here. i've been trying to get you in here. >> well, fine. all of this really makes more desirous of saying this, and that is, i think as basic as the flag symbol for america is the horatio alger story. that is onward, upward. we believed it for our children, but the children aren't seeing it come true in today's society. the child no longer, by getting the extra education, is going to get a better job and lead a better life than his parents. traditionally, from the
7:57 pm
beginning of the united states, it was always, "you can succeed," and now, it's disillusionment. these mbas and whatnot can't get a job of any sort because they're too qualified. so this means a whole economic upheaval, but also the disillusionment, because it was a symbol, and always has been for us. >> and any nation has to go constantly reform its identity and relationships, repackaged for its civil religious sentiments, if it's going to continue down the pike - you can't just stay in the past. >> these are the future. these are the people who will be governing in another 10, 15 years. >> and they have to have some kind of ideals. and i often think that should have - train millions of religious studies professors so we could always have an underclass. believe it or not,
7:58 pm
we're down to the last few minutes, and actually down to the last few seconds - and on that note about the vision, and the positive feeling here, is perhaps a good place to end on it. that's what we're saying with civil religion. see how much fun it is to argue about it and discuss it? and that's the way it will always be. but from our perspective, what's in there is the power of symbol, the power of myth, and the power of rituals we move through - you can see those elements working. so in the next class, as we move on - we're going to stay with t- but we're going to move on into doctrine, and see, as jamie brought up, how that works on myth and ritual.
7:59 pm